What’s on your resolution list for 2014? Weight loss? Eating healthier? Reading your scriptures more? Or have you already given up?
Don’t give up yet on one goal, though-that of doing 100 percent visiting teaching for the year. It’s still early and definitely not too late to set some goals for your visiting teaching in the year ahead (and even home teaching if you’re a good cookie maker!)
I served several years as the visiting teaching coordinator in my small Southern Virginia ward where a visiting teacher might have to drive 20 miles to see an assigned sister. Now I’m in the Relief Society presidency where the bulk of our presidency meetings seem to concern visiting teaching routes and issues. And, of course, I’ve been a visiting teacher for decades.
I must admit that out of all the church callings I’ve had in the 42 years I have been a member of the Church being the visiting teaching coordinator was the most discouraging. So many sisters struggle with the vision of visiting teaching, oftentimes not even putting it on any priority list at all.
Although I’m not a perfect visiting teacher, through the years I have learned some principles that perhaps can help you have a more successful and enjoyable year at your visit teaching (and home teaching!).
Make visiting teaching problems a matter of prayer.
I can guarantee you that your Relief Society presidency and bishopric consider prayerfully and thoughtfully to the best of their abilities when assignments are made. If you feel that your route is just not doable for you, the first place to go is to the Lord and ask Him about it and then to your presidency to tell them what problems you are facing. Maybe the Lord, the bishop, or the Relief Society president knows of a need of the sister you don’t know about but knows you are the answer to that need. Try and pray before giving up.
Consider visiting teaching a calling as surely as your other callings are.
Although visiting teachers are not sustained or set apart, the calling is certainly an important one: “Visiting teaching gives women the opportunity to watch over, strengthen, and teach one another,” according to Section 9.5 of the Handbook of Instructions. What an awesome responsibility that is! We are truly the Savior’s eyes, hands, and heart on the earth, yet many sisters who would not consider ignoring their calling as a counselor in the Primary, ward chorister, or Sunday School teacher, go month after month with visiting teaching low on their list of priorities.
Win more “difficult” sisters over with love.
I wanted to call this “Kill them with kindness,” but that didn’t appropriate! Through the years, I have challenged myself to learn to love “difficult” sisters and get them to love me. In some cases I have been successful; I still have a couple on my list.
Recently I was assigned a sister who didn’t want me to come visit her because she always felt her house was not neat enough. Even if that had been the case, I didn’t care. But I found out what her favorite cookie was and that she had a sweet tooth in general, so month after month I dropped by-even if she had rejected a planned visit-and dropped off cookies to her. After about 18 months of this, I was standing on her porch, preparing to leave after giving her a plate of cookies one day, and she said, “Well, aren’t you going to come in?” I had made it into her living room! We have had some wonderful visits and when I brought her by something sweet for her birthday a few months ago, I could sincerely hug her and tell her that I loved her. Cookies work wonders! They can get in doors where visiting teachers can’t.
Meet sisters where they are.
Similar to the above situation, if your assigned sister has a home environment where you can’t do a “traditional” visiting teaching meeting, meet her where you can to watch over her-long phone calls, a meeting at church, meet for lunch. I have a sister on my route who would let me visit until she moved in with her boyfriend. Now it’s harder to get a visit scheduled, but I email her regularly and ask or drop by with treats, hoping that someday I can get back in her house. Active as a youth, she has expressed appreciation that I have made the effort to remember her. Maybe this will make a difference in her life one day.
The saddest part of trying to assign sisters to visiting teaching routes is when Sister So-and-So won’t go visit Sister So-and-So because they have had “issues” in the past. If that is your problem, it might be wise to consider D&C 64:10 in which the Lord says “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” An excellent article on forgiveness that really changed my perception was a Meridian article by Larry Barkdull about William W. Phelps and how the Prophet Joseph freely forgave him after all the terrible injustices he caused Joseph and the early Church. Surely no sister on anyone’s list has done as much as Phelps did, nor as much as Christ’s crucifiers did to him. (Larry’s story can be found here).
Start early in the month.
This seems rather obvious, but it really can help. Everyone is busy, but giving yourself a whole month to get together with your visiting teachees sets yourself up for success. Some sisters even set aside the same day each month to visit.
Just do it.
I decided one year to stop find reasons not to things and find reasons to do things. It’s always easy to find reasons not to do what we need to do-“I have a cold/headache/ backache/too much to do/annoying mother-in-law visiting, etc., etc., ad infinitum.” Instead, turn it around and find reasons to do your visiting teaching: “I’ve been asked by the Lord to watch over my sisters. I love my sisters. I want to go visit my friends. I’ll enjoy it once I go out. My sisters need me.” I always feel better once I go out and do my visiting teaching. It’s never the bother I think it’s going to be, and I’ve heard the same from other sisters, so it must be true. Just do it!
Have an idea of “I’ll do what you want me to do. I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.”
As someone who regularly asks sisters to take meals, visit people, lead music, and many other tasks, I love to hear the occasional “I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”
And that really sums up all the other tips-ask the Lord or your Relief Society president what needs to be done and with all your ability to do your best.
Susan is a freelance writer and teacher of college English in beautiful Southern Virginia. Her novel “Miracle of the Christmas Star” may be purchased on Amazon.com.